Coinneamh-fhiosrachaidh mu dheidhinn stèidheachaidh ‘Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh’, buidheann-iomairtachd Gàidhlig, a thachras Disathairne, ficheadamh latha a’ Mhàirt, 2021, aig 7f TCE

[An Informational meeting about the founding of ‘Courage in Kentucky’, a Gaelic activist group, to take place March 20th, 2021, at 7pm EST]

What is Misneachd?

Misneachd is the Scottish Gaelic word for ‘courage’, and is also the name for a Leftist pressure group established in Scotland in around 2015 with the aim of securing the survival of local minority languages in solidarity with the movements for anti-racism, anti-capitalism, feminism, and environmentalism. The Scottish Misneachd movement drew inspiration from its Irish sister-organization, Misneach (which also means courage, but in Irish), which has existed off-and-on since at least the 1970s, and which experienced a major revival in 21st-century Ireland. It is hoped that members of both Misneachd and Misneach will look kindly on the foundation of Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh, and that there will be international solidarity between the three organizations and their activists.

What is Misneachd’s philosophy?

Misneachd is a Leftist activist group that exists to protect endangered languages and the communities of people who speak them.

Misneachd recognizes that the decline of minoritized communities and their languages does not occur spontaneously or inevitably, but instead happens as the result of alterable processes and ideological constructs initiated and maintained by human action. Many if not all of these harmful processes and ideologies – such as capitalism, classism, regionalism, anti-feminism, rural depopulation, homophobia, transphobia, and the various forms of chauvinism – stem from the creation and maintenance of unjust hierarchies, and the unfair distribution of resources on the basis of those hierarchies.

Leftism stands on the principle that people should strive toward the creation of an equal society in which all human beings have sufficient resources to achieve their wellbeing, and holds that people can bring about that equal and well-provided-for society by changing or dismantling unjust hierarchies and redistributing resources in society as it exists today.

The Leftism of the first industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries focused on dismantling class-based hierarchies – that is, on eliminating the privileges of the bourgeoisie (the property-owning classes), and protecting the human rights of the proletariat (the working classes) – by trying to universalize ownership of the means of production (the property, such as factory equipment, that generated wealth). This striving to dismantle class-based hierarchies and achieve the equal redistribution of wealth is known as class warfare, and its hoped for end-goal (the freedom of workers from exploitation by the owners of the means of production) is known as economic justice.

Modern Leftism still embraces class-warfare (that is, the elimination of class hierarchies), but has also expanded its remit so as to battle other unjust hierarchies based in white supremacism, male-chauvinism, ablism, and heteronormativity. The struggle to dismantle these hierarchies and achieve the equal redistribution of social capital, as well as its end goal of social equality among all people, is known as social justice. Social justice has roused the ire of some old-school Leftists, who denounce it as ‘identity politics’, and who claim that it detracts from the Left’s historical focus on economic justice.  To some extent, social justice has been hijacked by centrist Liberalism – a philosophy which tolerates hierarchies so long as they seem to be based on merit, and which holds that the unequal distribution of resources within society is inevitable and perhaps desirable. However, there are important distinctions between social justice as practiced by true Leftists and social justice as practiced by centrist Liberals, in that the Leftists hope to achieve a future in which people of all races, genders, sexual orientations and levels of physical and mental ability will have the same economic and social standing in society; whereas the Liberals hope to achieve a future in which all such people will have the same degree of opportunity to advance themselves within extant social and economic hierarchies. The practical differences between the two philosophies would emerge quite visibly in the event of their successful implementation: in the Leftist utopia, everyone would have roughly equal economic and social influence; whereas, in the Liberal utopia, there would still be dichotomies of rich and poor, high-status and low-status, and powerful and powerless, although – at least in theory – anyone from any background would have the opportunity to ascend the social and economic ranks, even if they started out from the bottommost rung. Both of these philosophies and their potential futures stand apart from those of the right-wing variety – in which neither social nor economic justice are in fact regarded as ‘just’, since many if not all hierarchies (whether economic or social) are seen as having been ordained by God or nature and must therefore be respected as immutable; and because the unequal distribution of resources is seen as natural and right – but also from one another. Misneachd embraces the modern Leftist formulation of social justice, positing that a Leftism without social justice would fail to address social power imbalances unconnected to class, and that a Leftism without economic justice would simply be Liberalism by a different name. As such, Misneachd strives to topple all unjust hierarchies, whether economic or social.

Because the power imbalance between the speakers of hegemonic languages and the speakers of minoritized languages constitutes an unjust hierarchy – and because the minoritization of such languages and communities is often intersectional with their economic marginalization – Mineachd holds that the support of minoritized languages and their speech communities constitutes a form of both economic and social justice.

Misneachd’s purpose, then, is to topple unjust social and economic hierarchies in order to safeguard the ongoing existence and wellbeing of minoritized cultural groups and their languages. As part of that mission, all meetings and other activities of Misneachd are conducted through the medium Scottish Gaelic, and all meetings and activities of Misneach are conducted through the medium of Irish. In the context of Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh, this tradition will be difficult to observe, at least at first, owing to the likely paucity of fluent Scottish Gaelic speakers in the membership. I do think, however, that prospective Kentuckian members should aspire to uniform Gaelic-language use in the context of MaC activities, and that all members of MaC should be actively involved in learning Scottish Gaelic (and perhaps at least one other minority language historically or currently present in Kentucky) as a prerequisite to the conferral of membership in the organization.

How is Misneachd organized?

The organizational structure of Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh has yet to be fully realized, but the structures of the existing Irish and Scottish organizations provide templates to be followed, modified, or discarded at the discretion of the members of the Kentucky branch. In the extant models, the principles of non-hierarchy, non-coercion, and equality are key, and – in my own view – should probably be emulated.

Commitment to non-hierarchy and consent

The organizational structure of both Misneachd in Scotland and Misneach in Ireland is federal, but also loose-knit and non-hierarchical, such that each of the two organizations has multiple regional branches in the country in which it operates, with all of the branches being equal in importance and influence within the organization, and all members being affiliated both to the national organization and their local branch, but with no national committees to which the branches or their members would be subordinate.

Each branch has autonomy in conducting its own affairs, and both Misneach and Misneachd exist at the national level only insofar as 1) having occasional nationwide gatherings (that is, meetings of the general membership) to which all members are invited and which interested members of any branch may attend; 2) maintaining a social media presence online; and 3) and publishing a minority-language newsletter to which any interested members may contribute and which any interested members may distribute. As such, neither Misneachd nor Misneach has a standing national committee, and any major or emergent decisions concerning the nationwide activities of the organization in either case are made in consensus-based deliberations consisting of any interested members and convened as needed by those who foresee that need. Increasingly, at least in the case of Misneachd, these deliberations take place online, via members-only social-media spaces.  In the case of Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh, we would probably begin with a Louisville-based branch that accepted members from throughout the Commonwealth, and would then see if interested members wanted to found other branches elsewhere as the membership grew.

For the ongoing day-to-day operations of the extant organizations (both at the national and local levels, and in both Ireland and Scotland) most minor decisions are seen to by affinity groups – that is, groups of interested members with interest and (ideally) expertise in the area in question. In Scotland, for instance, an affinity group at the national level is tasked with the publication of Misneachd’s periodical, Buaidh [Impact/Victory].

At both the local and national levels, and within both affinity groups and meetings of the general membership, decisions are made on the basis of consensus, rather than democratically, or by authority of leaders: all interested members engage in discussion of the issues at hand, and – in most cases – no decision may be arrived at if any member involved in the deliberations raises strong objections.

The nature of membership

In keeping with its founding principles, Misneachd is a non-hierarchical organization, meaning that all members are equal in power and prestige, and, in accordance with anti-capitalist values, no membership fee is required of prospective members. This does not mean that there is no formal membership, or lack of distinction between members and non-members of the organization: branches may maintain official membership rosters, and/or require that would-be members make ideological declarations, participate in a certain amount of activism on behalf of the organization, or otherwise demonstrate their commitment in order to be recognized as members. Theoretically, a branch could revoke the membership of any of its members in the event of their having betrayed the organization or its ideals, as could the national organization disavow and disassociate from a particular branch (or vice versa) in the event of irreconcilable differences – although, fortunately, the situation in which it would be necessary to undertake either of those actions has not yet arisen in either the Scottish or Irish context.

Why found a variant of Misneachd in Kentucky?

Kentucky is full of people who have ‘Celtic’ ancestry – that is, people who claim descent from communities of native speakers of Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, or Breton – because of large-scale immigration to Kentucky from the British Isles in the 18th and 19th centuries. Despite the historical presence of large numbers of Celtic-language-speakers in Kentucky, only one of the languages of Britain and Ireland is spoken here today (English – a Germanic, rather than a Celtic, language), and most of the descendants of the immigrants in question do not identify in any meaningful way with the ethnic affinities of their ancestors, instead identifying themselves as ‘white’.

The dominance of whiteness and the English language is an ongoing danger to cultural and linguistic diversity in Kentucky. By promoting Scottish Gaelic and other lapsed or endangered minority languages used (or once used) by indigenous and/or immigrant Kentuckians, Misneachd in Kentucky aims to:

  1. Encourage people to question the validity of the construct of whiteness and the agenda of white supremacy, thereby reducing the destructiveness of white Kentuckians to themselves and others;
  2. Help culturally dispossessed Kentuckians reconnect with their cultural roots;
  3. Defend the cultural and linguistic diversity of Kentuckians, both by helping to increase the awareness (and the use) of minoritized languages no longer spoken in Kentucky, and by defending the linguistic rights of Kentuckians who speak minoritized languages at present.

A further aim of Misneachd will be to disassociate ‘Celtic’ cultural commodities (especially, but not exclusively, ‘Celtic’ languages) from the far-right, reclaiming them for general use, and thereby preventing their use as hate-symbols. Symbols such as ogham letters, Celtic crosses, Celtic interlace patterns, and even Celtic languages themselves (by their use in slogans and tattoos) have – through their appropriation by racists, misogynists, homophobes, anti-feminists, and anti-Semites – come dangerously close to being popularly regarded with the same suspicion as tainted emblems such as the Swastika and the Confederate Battle Flag. Misneachd in Kentucky will attempt to reappropriate this Celtic symbolic repertoire for the Leftist public, by means of:

  1. Educating people about the history of the Ancient Celts and the six modern ethnocultural groups (the Irish Gaels, the Manx Gaels, the Scottish Gaels, the Welsh Britons, the Cornish Britons, and the Bretons) associated with the surviving Celtic languages, explaining that neither genetics nor whiteness have ever been important markers of ‘Celtic’ identity, but that communally-transmitted culture – and, especially, language – have;
  2. Using ‘Celtic’ cultural and aesthetic commodities in ways that both honor their historical usages and contradict the narratives of the alt-right (such as by attending protests alongside other Leftists with banners proclaiming Leftist slogans in Celtic languages, perhaps in ‘Celtic’ systems of writing, such as ogham or corra-litir); and
  3. Denouncing, by means of print and other media (including our own periodical, Air Son na Cùise), the use of ‘Celtic’ imagery by the right-wing; and actively publicizing the anti-racist and pro-communal aspects of historical and extant Celtic cultures.

Finally, Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh will attempt to counter anti-Kentuckian and anti-Southern regionalism and its negative effects on the wellbeing of Kentuckians and Southerners in general. Kentucky has long been disparaged by the residents of wealthier and more populous regions of the United States as a cultural and economic backwater; Kentuckians, often derided as ‘hicks’, ‘rednecks’, and ‘hillbillies’, have been saturated with the disconfirming narrative that they could only find success and happiness in life if they either left Kentucky, or changed the way they thought, spoke, and acted so as to conform to the cultural and linguistic norms of other areas. This trend has persisted for generations, and has had a disastrous cumulative effect on the condition of the Kentuckian psyche. Many Kentuckians actively despise Kentucky, or themselves for having been born here; some have taken it upon themselves to alter the way they speak, or have been forced to do so because of discriminatory hiring practices that make it difficult for people with ‘country’, ‘Southern’, or ‘mountain’ accents to find gainful employment; and still others feel compelled to disguise their place of origin when travelling, for fear of incurring the ridicule of prejudiced strangers. In Kentucky’s major urban areas, such as Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky, the same pressures have essentially discouraged Kentuckians from self-identifying as Kentuckians: many of the urban residents of Kentucky strive to speak non-regionally, and tend think on themselves as culturally distinct from the rural residents of the Commonwealth, whom they join Northerners and West-Coast-ers in deriding. Because so little distinctly Kentuckian culture abides in the major urban areas, those who move into these areas from elsewhere have no frame of reference by which to even appreciate Kentuckian culture – much less replicate it – and so Kentucky’s rural-urban divide, and, with it, the Commonwealth’s creeping cultural assimilation to bland pan-US linguistic and cultural norms, continues to intensify.

On the Left, this regional prejudice and its attendant cultural assimilationism are often looked on as justifiable punishments for the historical racism, homophobia, and anti-feminism of Kentuckian and other Southern communities; while, on the Right, anti-Kentuckian and anti-Southern bigotry is hijacked to serve as evidence of prejudice against the ‘white working class’ (despite the fact that Kentuckians- and other Southerns-of-color, too, are often subject to regional discrimination on account of their places of origin). While the right-wing analysis of regionalism-as-discrimination-against-white-people is plainly laughable, and is increasingly losing traction in political discourse, the left-wing narrative still has tremendous potential to do harm, by alienating Kentuckians from Leftism. What incentive do Kentuckians have to join the Left if they believe – and perhaps not wrongly – that most Leftists from elsewhere think that they and their neighbors are subhumans who deserve to lose everything that makes them culturally distinct? Any Kentuckian not blinded by the self-hatred imposed on them from without by mainstream US culture knows that there is more to Kentucky – and, indeed, more to the South at large – than racism and poverty, and for Leftists from other regions to say otherwise arguably represents their active betrayal of their avowed values. Some commentators have gone so far as to posit that Leftist condemnation of the South – though often undertaken in the name of anti-racism and anti-classism – is at least in part motivated by the disgust of the white and affluent at Black and poor people in the South; and, indeed, anti-Southern prejudice tends to do far more emotional and economic damage to the multiracial Southern underclasses than to the disproportionately white Southern moneyed elite.

Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh will undertake to combat anti-Kentuckian and anti-Southern regional prejudice and their effects by:

  1. Using its platforms to disseminate a message of interracial regional solidarity among Kentuckians; celebrate the cultural and ecological attributes that make Kentucky distinct; and decry the mistreatment of Kentuckians and Southerners in general by those biased against their place(s) of origin;
  2. Participating solidaristically in the work and activism of Kentuckians who hope to improve the quality of life in their communities, so that it will become ever easier for Kentuckians to feel proud to self-identify as being from Kentucky; and
  3. Engaging with – and, ideally, recruiting as members – Kentuckians from marginalized communities, especially rural and non-White Kentuckians.

So, in brief, the aim of Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh is to challenge unjust hierarchies and improve the lives of Kentuckians by reconnecting Kentuckians with minority languages formerly spoken in the Commonwealth; reclaiming ‘Celtic’ cultural commodities appropriated by the alt-right; and combating regional prejudice against Kentuckians through fostering pride in Kentuckian identity.

How will Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh fulfill its aims?

MaC will achieve its mission through a combination of initiating its own projects, and partnering with other like-minded people and organizations in Kentucky and elsewhere.

Air Son na Cùise

As far as self-directed projects go, one target for 2021 will be the launch of MaC’s periodical, Air Son na Cùise – a free, multilingual Leftist zine that will be available online and in print, and which will be dedicated to the promotion of minority languages, feminism, anti-racism, ecology, LGBTQ+ rights, and Left-compatible aspects of Kentuckian and Southern culture. The working languages of the magazine will be Scottish Gaelic, English, and Spanish, although contributions in other languages will be welcome, so long as they are presented alongside translations of their content into the three working languages (for instance, an article written in Kurdish would be welcome, so long as either a member or members of the editorial team could translate it into the working languages, or the author themselves submitted the piece alongside their own translation of it into on of those languages).

Online lectures and workshops

Also in the 2021 calendar year, it would be good for Misneachd to launch a series of webinars and online workshops (or, Covid-permitting, even in-person events!) in connection with its aims of promoting Leftism, minority language rights, and Kentucky heritage.

Volunteerism

Members of Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh could stand to benefit both MaC and the community at large by volunteering their time in the furtherance of Leftist causes they consider worthwhile under the banner of Misneachd, both independently (whether at the level of individual members, or of MaC as a whole) and in partnership with other Leftist organizations.

Cooperation with Beargrass Thunder

One such organization is Beargrass Thunder, a Smoketown-based group dedicated to infrastructural revitalization, zoning equality, ecological sustainability, and rewilding in the Louisville metro area. By volunteering at one another’s events, co-hosting events, and rigorously cross-promoting their messages on one another’s social media platforms, both organizations stand to benefit by collaboration.

Cooperation with Guth na Coimhearsnachd

It might be useful to seek a similar relationship with Guth na Coimhearsnachd, the left-leaning trans-Atlantic online Gaelic-language song group. We can see to it that we get mentioned at their events, mention them in turn at those of our events that involve either Gaelic or song, and co-host workshops on Gaelic singing.

Cooperation with Dùthchas is Anarcachas ann an Ceanndachaidh

Perhaps even more in line with our mission would be a collaboration withDùthchas is Anarcachas ann an Ceanndachaidh, a Facebook group and podcast dedicated to the promotion of Gaelic, folk-culture, and anarchism in Kentucky. As a host of the podcast, I could easily facilitate its function as a medium for promoting the initiatives of MaC.

Cooperation with BLM

Although the winter of 2020 saw a lull in the activism of the BLM movement in Louisville, the death of Breonna Taylor will not be forgotten, nor will those who rose up in her name relent until the racist system that killed her has been reformed or dismantled, and her killers held to account. Once the protests resume, it would be of value for MaC to participate in the demonstrations – consciousness raising about minority languages, showing solidarity with other demonstrators, distributing food and water, teaching Scottish Gaelic protest songs, and recruiting members from among the crowds.

Cooperation with An Comann Cèilidhe Ceanndachaidheach [The Kentucky Cèilidh Club]

On a less-serious note, it is hoped that our organization might collaborate with the as-yet-unfounded Kentucky Cèilidh Club – an association for hosting traditional Scottish Gaelic music, storytelling and dance gatherings. The two groups could recruit by means of one another’s events, and perhaps co-host events and/or fundraise together.

How to get involved

If you would like to take part in the founding of Misneachd ann an Ceanndachaidh, please attend the informational meeting to take place on  Saturday, the 20th of March, 2021 at 7pm EST / Midnight GMT via Skype. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me by email at atdahm01@gmail.com, or at kentuckygaelic@gmail.com.

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